The League


Do Cinderella Teams Hurt Football?

While expansion and parity have helped grow the NFL into the most lucrative sport in the world, have they also devalued the regular season by creating a system in which the team that gets hot late wins?

Posted by Emil Steiner on January 23, 2009 2:00 PM

Sideswiped: The NY Jets were a cinderella team yet they went on to beat a heavily favored Baltimore Colt team in 1969, thus melding the AFL and the NFL ...

rcubedkc: I think they're all a bunch of losers. All these conquering heros should follow the lead of Pat Tillman and do something productive with th...

dalee16: The Arizona Cardinals will win and set a Super Bowl record for most passes in a game and shatter the myth that only teams with strong defens...

Make a Comment  |  All Comments (41)

danmart44 Author Profile Page :

I really don't think that having a subpar team like the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl is good for football. Sure it gets fans excited, but it also dilutes the quality of the sport. The NFL overexpanded and now its stuck with an NHL type situation where teams that deserve to win don't and those that don't do. Some people may not like dynasties but we also end up losing rivalries, since great play becomes sporadic and players move around more and more. That is what will ultimately bring in the fans, not seeing a bunch of mediocre teams miraculous get hot at the last minute and steal a title.

kemp13 Author Profile Page :

Of course this doesn't "hurt" the NFL. The generic NFL fan doesn't like the Cardinals being there because they probably didn't see them play any games until the playoffs. What the Cardinals have is arguably the two best offensive players over the past couple of months. Larry Fitzgerald is in Jerry Rice territory, and Kurt Warner is extremely hot right now.

It wouldn't surprise me to see them beat Pittsburgh. Yes, Pittsburgh has a good defense, but they have weaknesses and a lot of their stats were built against AFC North teams that lack offenses. When they have played against a top-shelf QB with top-shelf receivers (the Colts) they lost.

And - I know this is going to annoy Steelers fans - the Cardinals have significantly better coaching. Tomlin walked in to a team stacked with talent and a winning tradition. Wisenhunt and Grimm walked into the Cardinals. In two years both have their teams in the Super Bowl. The Steelers being there surprise nobody.

I doubt the Cardinals will have any trouble scoring on the Steelers. Likewise, the Steelers won't have much trouble scoring on the Cardinals - but can the Steelers win with their average 21 points? Not if Warner and Fitzgerald are in synch.

The people who think this is bad for the league are fans of the glamor teams. Dallas fans HATE this. That alone makes it a great development!

cidcamp70 Author Profile Page :

The fact of the matter is that NFL regular season games are relatively meaningless exhibitions. As long as you win 9 or 10 of them you will make the end of season tournament. At that point it's anybody's game..

The bottom line is the Super Bowl winner is not necessarily the best team.

overed Author Profile Page :

Danmart44 – I have to really disagree with you. The point of the regular season is to make the playoffs. Arizona did it this year, the Giants, Steelers, Ravens, Denver in ‘97 and Raiders in ‘80 all made it as Wildcards and won. No one “deserves” to be in the Bowl. As for rivalries – buddy, I will take the Steelers – Ravens, Chicago-Green Bay or Redskins – Cowboys any day of the week, over more “deserving” teams. Rivalries are formed and continued as an ethos of a Team, not by individuals, so the vagrancy of players through free agency has minimal impact on a true rivalry.

OrganicGeorge Author Profile Page :

Bleep the experts.

They're upset that they were wrong based who had the talent to win. Talent is one aspect of winning, the other is intangibles, which they cannot measure with stats.

overed Author Profile Page :

CID - what exactly do you mean by "best team"?

JoeSchmoe06 Author Profile Page :

What would the alternative be, then? The BCS?

If you have playoffs (and you should), then you have to live with the fact that the team that looks like the "best" regular season team might get cold, while an underdog steps it up in the playoffs. More power to the Cardinals if they can make their supposedly mediocre team work on the big stage.

overed Author Profile Page :

CID - what exactly do you mean by "best team"?

robinhood2 Author Profile Page :

While it is commendable that there is parody in the NFL. The question I have is why does the Washington Post have NFL "experts" at all. Cost savings are close at hand.

As for the question.. whine whine whine... if you don't like it go live in the dirt in Gaza....

frieda406 Author Profile Page :

really don't think that having a subpar team like the Arizona Cardinals
subpar? really? they beat the falcons, panthers and eagles. convincingly. how does that make them subpar? other writers note that just because the team you feel should be there is not, doesn't mean the team who made it is unqualified. they won. next!

uhrhistory Author Profile Page :

If the New England Patriots were healthy in 2008, this would be no contest. With 9 regulars out, including Tom Brady, for the year they still posted an 11-5 record and with that record aren't in the playoffs (ridiculous!). Glad to see the Cardinals in for the first time but the Patriots destroyed them in the regular season.

glancer Author Profile Page :

All it does is highlight the weakness of the playoff/tournament format for deciding who the best team for a season. Soccer is the only sport that has a true way of deciding - but it is impractical for football, there are no divisions, you play every team twice, once at home, once away, best record at the end is the best team. All games count equally. Then they have a tournament with all the teams to get the "cindarella" story a lot of fans crave.

No1Special Author Profile Page :

The problem is that with the introduction of so many expansion teams over the years the talent pool has been seriously diluted. There just aren't that many great players in any generation. Average teams are becoming the best we can hope for.

jric3 Author Profile Page :

There is a lot of talent in the league; on any given day a "non-best" team can beat a good one. Arizona still has to live with the fact how it was decimated by the NE Pats, but went on to win their division. It may not lessen the nature of the game, but it will lessen the Nielsen ratings on Super Sunday.

clark202 Author Profile Page :

I like the fact that teams with over achievers are winning. I like the David versus Goliath, the underdog overcomes, hometown team makes good, Cinderella stories.

Lord knows, we all need them given the climate of the economy these days. As things change from bad to worse, its good to see good things happen to good hard working folks. Besides I like the drama of the games, I hate to see one team just blowout the other team (unless of course its the Skins blowing out the Cowboys).

flashbazbo Author Profile Page :

In a word: No. Look, I know the root of this argument is epitomized in the NFL seeing its first 9-win Super Bowl team in 29 years (strike year not included). You can cite example after example, going back decades, of teams with good-to-great records that didn't make the playoffs ('83 Cowboys at 12-4), some shockers who made the Super Bowl ('79 Rams at 9-7), or shockers who won the Super Bowl (last year's Giants at 10-6). The point is this: every season is different, complete with its own contradictions and teams who should've but didn't, who shouldn't have but did. But the rules for getting into the playoffs are hard and fast. And, once in, the playoffs don't play out like a referendum on the regular season record. Each team has to win these games, nothing is a lock. The system has worked just fine, the teams with the great records who fall flat on their faces in the playoffs SHOULD be ashamed if they lose...

donpersons Author Profile Page :

This has only been true in the NFC, where the only team that has shown any consistent success in the regular season AND playoffs has been the Eagles. Including this Super Bowl the NFC has sent 8 different teams the last 9 years, while the AFC has been dominated by the Pats, Steelers and Colts.

rooba209 Author Profile Page :

I understand that the Cardinals don't have a rich history (or any history of winning), but how can you call them a cinderella team when they won their division and were the fourth seed. They had a good season. As i recall, the last two teams to win the super bowl (giants and steelers) were wild card teams which had to overcome major feats to win the superbowl. I think those are more of the cinderella story. I think the real question is whether parity is good is good for the nfl.

xconservative Author Profile Page :

I think that just the opposite is true. I used to hate the dynasties where you new what teams would be in the playoffs and superbowl every year. Where was the drama in one or two teams winning every year? Now, it seems like any team has a shot at the playoffs and superbowl. The only people who don't like this are the elitists and the bookies.

As for uhrhistory and his Patriots - no team deserves to lose more than that pack of poor sports and bullies. I LOVE to see them lose. They got caught cheating and then took it out on the weaker teams by running up the score. What justice that they made it to the superbowl and then had their perfect season ruined. I hope if another team gets a perfect season it's through hard work and sportsmanship, not cheating and running up the score.

BRIANSWARTZ Author Profile Page :

how does having a different team in the super bowl dilute the game. i am tired of seeing the same 4 or 5 teams every year play for the championship. i like the steelers, but would love to see the cards win this one. why should only a few cities get that satisfaction year in and year out?? rather see the skins there, but that ain't happening any time soon!!

teamw23 Author Profile Page :

This is silly. There are not enough games in the regular season that any of them are irrelevant. Further, parity in league means it is extremely difficult to put together a very long string of successive wins, so every game you drop makes it exponentially harder to ultimately prevail. This is why, most of the time, the teams that win consistently throughout the year are the ones that make the playoffs and then succeed once there.

But that general trend doesn't mean it is impossible for teams without sterling records to get into the playoffs and then have success. League parity means that anybody can beat anybody on any given day in this league, which is one of the things that makes football so fun to watch. Sometimes long shots do come in. Witness the Eagles making the playoffs. The number of stars that had to align for that to happen was crazy, but it did.

Do I expect Arizona to win the SuperBowl? No, I don't. I think Pittsburgh is going to utterly dominate them. But I could be wrong, which is why I'll watch it.

That is the whole point right? Who is going to watch a game where the outcome is pre-ordained?

jedimind72 Author Profile Page :

... and that's why emil steiner is an idiot. the cardinals clearly have proven worthy of a super bowl run. to degrade, or talk down their accomplishment would be to degrade the franchise itself. this is their first super bowl in 61 years. and yes, like it or not, if your team is hot at the end of the season they will go far... and the alternative to this is... the BCS? well, we've all seen how that one works out. i think people around here should be more concerned with the redskins changing their motto from "maybe next season" than the accomplishment of a former MVP, Kurt Warner. So to answer your question, Emil Steiner; No, the value of the regular season is just as important as you have to have a competitive record to be able to do what the Cardinals have done. If you don't like it, turn off your TV. simple as that.

bdstauffer Author Profile Page :

I don't think you can call the Cardinals a below average team. The last time I checked, 9/16 is greater than 0.5, so that makes them above average.

Besides, sometimes a team just gets hot. Recall 29 yrs ago. The 9-7 LA Rams ran the table in the playoffs, made it to the Super Bowl, and was leading at the beginning of the 4th quarter before Bradshaw hit Stallworth on 2 bombs and won the game at the end. The Rams may not have had a spectacular regular season, but they did well enough to make it to the playoffs, and got hot, beat Mr. Cowboy Roger Staubach, and then John McKay's Buc's.

I'm not going to predict that the Cardinals will beat the Steelers. The Steelers are a really, really good team. However, the Cardinals have 2 time MVP Kurt Warner, plus Larry Fitzgerald and Edgerine James. The Cardinals do have offensive talent. Their defense is a bit suspect, but I don't think anyone can say anything bad about the offense.

But to the question, do the Cardinals deserve to be there, my answer is yes.

PatD1 Author Profile Page :

If football was played the way it was until the 50's, "two-way", it would be much less of the "injury roulette" game that it has become. Specialization has favored bigger, faster and stronger players at all positions. The effect of this change has been to make the game's contact much more jarring, violent and destructive.The bones, joints and sinews of the players pay the cost for this rule change the NFL instituted in 1950.

Nowadays a couple key injuries can decimate a team at any time. Career ending or performance degrading, no players get out of the NFL physically uninjured anymore. More than anything else, the random nature of players getting hurt has the most say in which teams advance.

washpostemail Author Profile Page :

Expanding on what a couple other posters touched on ... I find it fascinating that people are making a big deal out of a "mediocre" team making the playoffs. These seem to be the same people bellyaching about the BCS.

On one hand, they're upset because the same college teams are always playing for the "national championship" (in spite of records and/or head-to-head results) and scream for playoff system. Then they complain because the NFL actually has a system which allows the league champion through a playoff system.

slats999 Author Profile Page :

For me the question is not really do Cinderella teams hurt the NFL, but rather were this year's teams worse than in recent years, and does THAT hurt the NFL? The answer to both question is yes.

Remember last year? NE was DOMINANT, and they raised the level of everyone else's games (except the Redskins'). And before last year, remember how close each and every single playoff game was, coming down almost every single one of them to the last minute, and they were all hard fought. This year, there was just a lot more mediocrity. Maybe last year, the majority of teams peaked.

The Cardinals, it seems to me, are one of the better NFL stories, and HELP the NFL. They are getting hot at the right time, they're coming together.

zperez Author Profile Page :

Cinderella teams are not the same in the NFL as they are in college sports. Ranking systems in college sports always leave open the possibility that a team has been counted out by the rankers before they get a chance to prove themselves in a tournament. In my opinion, Cinderella teams definitely devalue the NFL. For my argument, I present the 2007 New England Patriots. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest team ever assembled. They have the stats and the record to prove it, and I got to watch them completely dominate their opponents in most of their games. The outcomes were never really in doubt except for the Baltimore game (and I'm a Cowboy fan who rooted against the Pats for most of the year, so I'm not being biased here). And yet, the Pats didn't win the Super Bowl. If the greatest team ever assembled doesn't win the Super Bowl, the what does the Super Bowl really tell us? Nothing. Because of all of this, I have devalued Super Bowl victories, and I will never again consider them to be as special.

davidmckittrick Author Profile Page :

The Cards won their games fair and square. That makes them, by definition, the best team in the NFC. So, by extension, they can't be mediocre unless all the other NFC teams are less than mediocre. I don't think that's the case. They gelled late in the season as teams sometimes do. But that doesn't make them mediocre. And if they win, the question asked in this column will be shown to be totally stupid. Because the Steelers are good by any measure and if the Cards beat them then they have to be a good team. A team can win a game by being lucky--they can't win 4 playoff games in a row by being lucky. You have to be good to do that.

Barry8 Author Profile Page :

To the comment that 'subpar' teams like the Cardinals don't belong in the Superbowl, fair point, after all, the only teams that should play in the Superbowl are those that have already played in the Superbowl. And if a team doesn't make it to the Superbowl in a ten year period, their franchise should be eliminated. That would result in a maximum of 20 teams in the NFL which would reduce over time to something less.

OK -- let's see since 1999 - teams that 'belong' in the NFL: Denver,Atlanta, Tennessee, St. Louis, Baltimore, NY Giants,
New England, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Carolina, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Chicago, Indianapolis.

That's 15 teams that qualify to exist. Of course with a small enough roster of 'qualified' teams, why waste all the action on regular season games. Run it as pure playoff -- have 8 'also ran' teams compete in three rounds to qualify for the 'play in' team. Then run playoffs every other week to go from 16 to 8 to 4 to 2 to 1.

Of course with fewer teams and players in the NFL, there would be far less reason for the professional minor league (NCAA) football to exist. All the other atheletes could learn a real sport like baseball.....

fiveman3 Author Profile Page :

Pittsburgh had a rough schedule this year. They will beat the Cardinals 35-6. Range of probability error: 5%

Go Steelers!


officermancuso Author Profile Page :

Gene Wang dislikes Cinderellas from a simple marketing, profit-loss perspective.

The ideal matchup from that perspective would be to poll advertisers and see which match they'd pay the most for. Records would be irrelevant, and that, obviously, would be worse for the NFL from a simple marketing, prodfit-loss perspective, or any other perspective, than having a Cinderella who won their way in.

fredh41 Author Profile Page :

Of course it hurts the NFL. How can a team like the Titans be SO good & all of a sudden be SO bad ?? Visa Versa the Colts, terrible to begin the season, recovered through the season to make the playoffs, get beat by San Deigo
then San Deigo gets beat by the RAVENS????
Does Pro Wrestling come to mind ?? Most of the comments here sounds as if those commenting, serious fans obviously, really believe there is logic in the NFL. That is the ONLY reason the NFL survives....Fans of a big scam.A very, very expensive scam.
Networks who broadcast games should be required to post the Vegas odds along with the downs, scores etc....

dgblues Author Profile Page :

"It wouldn't surprise me to see them beat Pittsburgh. ...And - I know this is going to annoy Steelers fans - the Cardinals have significantly better coaching."

Hey, I'm a Steelers fan all the way but can't disagree with you there.

Anyone that underestimates the Cardinals is a fool. They can burn you, and quick. It's gonna take every bit of that number one defense. And a lot depends which Steeler offense shows up to play too, and that's always a huge question mark.

Oh, don't kid yourself: it's entirely conceivable the Cardinals win. That can happen on one big play, and that's something the Cardinals undeniably have the weapons to pull off.

RJlupin1 Author Profile Page :

I think this just shows that the biggest difference maker in any game is who wants it more and whether the players are on their game or not. In the NFL there really only a small difference between the teams that make the playoffs. As a former high school and college football player I am sure that emotion and mental preparedness are the most important thing. Sometimes people don't show up to play, or one team just has a superior game plan, or maybe a team or players just play above themselves in big games. I think that the teams that come back from weaker seasons in the playoffs show that the NFL is stronger than before because there is not such a difference in talent that one team is undefeatable by another good team. If people just wanted the best regular season teams to play in the superbowl then there could just be a championship of the top AFC and top NFC teams. But people want for the teams that had a slow start or a bump in the road to be able to contest for being the best. As for the Cardinals: that formula doesn't really work becase they really had their spot in the playoffs all but wrapped up for awhile; and for the Giants: if the team and Eli had been playing that well the whole season their record would have been better (evidenced by this year).

dgblues Author Profile Page :

"...the 2007 New England Patriots. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest team ever assembled. They have the stats and the record to prove it, and I got to watch them completely dominate their opponents in most of their games...If the greatest team ever assembled doesn't win the Super Bowl, the what does the Super Bowl really tell us?"

Evidently they didn't "completely dominate" everything, since they didn't win. Championships are won on the field. That's the way it works. You don't bring it all, you go home the loser. That's really all there is to it -- it isn't complicated.

If a different game has different rules, and "dominating" (whatever that is, and however you might measure it) is the way things are decided, well, that's cool by me, but just call that something other than "football" that's all I'd ask.

CRPren Author Profile Page :

I've always thought the "dynasties are great for football" argument was a bit silly. Football was never so boring as it was in the years where the 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Bills, and Broncos showed up in just about every Super Bowl and typically played a dull, lopsided game (of course, if you were a fan of one of those teams, it wasn't boring, but for the rest of us, it sure was). Parity has made this game more fun than ever. Each season is filled with possibility. And besides, while the Cardinals are a big surprise, the Steelers are, functionally, a dynasty in the sense that they never seem to be far from the top of the heap. Sure, every so often, the hot hand wins it all. But if it never happened that way, the playoffs would be predictable and not worth watching. Remember that the same argument for it being bad for the game could have been made the year the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, and lo and behold, they became a dynasty. The NFL's longterm viability depends on fans being able to hope that the next season will be better, that their team will catch lightning in a bottle, that on any given Sunday.... Otherwise, you might as well be watching golf.

msbhong Author Profile Page :

Well, I, too, don't wanna see the same teams playing for the Superbowl all the time and become "dynasties", like the Patriots, Forty-Niners, Cowboys, etc., that gets old and boring. That's why NFL deliberately set up the player drafting system to help even the odds for all teams to have a shot at the Superbowl championship. I'm glad to see that the Arizona Cardinals finally got a chance to win it all, even though I'm not their fan. But, I'll still root for them, since they are the underdogs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers already won six Superbowls, so I wouldn't feel sorry for them if they didn't win, either.

truthseeker7771 Author Profile Page :

Hey, I've felt for quite some time, and history shows it to be true, that the NFL has become more and more mediocre. Before i get attacked for that view, reflect back in the not to distant past (approx the time of the Aikman Cowboys; the Montana 49ers) and you' ll recall better teams, who were more consistent in their performance, and who stayed that way for more than one or two years. Some label it parady, a leveling of the playing field. Whatever. No disrespect intended, at all to the many good, and some great, players of today. In fact, I see it as a systemic problem. But between free agency and the premadonnas' who often use really weak reasons not to play/perform, the game has gone south quite abit. (S*^t, lets remember that these guys get to make a living PLAYING A GAME). It's why I've come to enjoy college football more and more; for the enthusiasm, the effort, the way the players approach the game. It's what the NFL once was, but is no more.

Sideswiped Author Profile Page :

The NY Jets were a cinderella team yet they went on to beat a heavily favored Baltimore Colt team in 1969, thus melding the AFL and the NFL together forever.
The Cardinals are far from Cinderella, they have depth and lots of talent, granted their record many not merit a trip to how they even got to where they are, but hey it was the best record in their conference. They are by far the hottest team in the NFL right now and their unbraiding of the Panthers and Eagles was no fluke. The Superbowl will not a be a blowout by either team, it will be very entertaining and go down to the wire. I am salivating and anxiously looking forward to it.

rcubedkc Author Profile Page :

I think they're all a bunch of losers.

All these conquering heros should follow the lead of Pat Tillman and do something productive with their lives.

Otherwise they're nothing but a bunch of over grown and over paid babies.

dalee16 Author Profile Page :

The Arizona Cardinals will win and set a Super Bowl record for most passes in a game and shatter the myth that only teams with strong defenses and running games win championships.

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